Bobby Valentine grew up in Stamford, Conn., but he never came to Fenway Park for a game until he was already in the majors. Now that he's managing the Red Sox, Valentine has gotten an up-close view of Fenway and the love affair between New England and its ballpark.
"The park has at least a life. It has a magic to it," Valentine said. "It's the baseball Land of Oz."
On Friday, the Red Sox celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first regular-season game at Fenway. More than 200 former players, managers and coaches returned for a pregame ceremony.
Caroline Kennedy threw a ceremonial first pitch, just like her great-grandfather 100 years earlier.
And Pedro Martinez and Kevin Millar, free-spirited heroes of the 2004 World Series champs, led the usual sellout crowd in a grape juice toast.
"It was a first-class ceremony," third baseman Kevin Youkilis said. "It was great. It was pretty special to see a lot of those guys. Former players, some I played with, just to see the legends who came today, it was pretty cool and very special. You couldn't ask for a more special moment for the players, the coaches, all the people involved."
Valentine was particularly taken Thursday by the more than 50,000 fans who turned out for an open house to celebrate Fenway's centennial. Several former and current players were on hand to sign autographs and take pictures, but their appearances weren't scheduled or publicized.
The attraction, undeniably, was Fenway.
"I thought it was just an incredible experience," Valentine said. "It wasn't billed as 'Come get Dustin's (Pedroia) autograph.' It was billed as 'Come to the park. It's open for you to feel.' People were buying souvenirs of the ballpark. That's just different, not getting the autograph or the photograph of the player. I stayed around awhile. I was amazed."